Event Reflection: The Digital Divide and Remote Service Delivery
Considerations for child, family and community services to improve remote delivery within the digital divide and challenging times.
On February 24th, 2021, the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA) hosted ‘The digital divide and remote service delivery.’
The event was aimed at professionals working in domestic and family violence, mental health, child protection, out-of-home care and remote service delivery. The presentation was led by three speakers:
- Jo Barraket- Distinguished Professor and Director of the Centre for Social Impact Swinburne and Swinburne University of Technology.
- Kathryn Bannister- the Communities for Children (CfC) Team Leader at Australia Red Cross (Darwin).
- Annette Michaux– Director of Policy and Practice at the Parenting Research Centre.
The webinar combined research and practice evidence to highlight four main topics:
- Telehealth services are effective for certain groups and services.
- Understanding the nature of the ‘digital divide’ during COVID-19 and its impact.
- Practical considerations for improving digital literacy and confidence of staff/clients who deliver/access remote services.
- Recognising that access to the internet is a basic human right.
The country is still in the midst of understanding the impacts of COVID-19 within the welfare sector. Importantly, these impacts have affected agencies, practitioners, and clients. State restrictions and experiences of isolation have led to an increased demand on children and family welfare services. There has also been an identified need to diversify the method in which these services are delivered and accessed.
During the pandemic, these services offered a lifeline to children and families at risk. However, digital access and digital illiteracy were highlighted as the key reasons for the digital exclusion of vulnerable communities. The panel offered practical considerations and innovative solutions for agencies and practitioners to support remote service delivery. It concluded by highlighting the need for a policy-driven approach to securing the right to internet access as a critical step to closing the gap within the digital divide.
- Efficacy of telehealth services
The webinar highlighted the effectiveness and necessity of using telehealth modes of delivery as it can be effective for certain groups (such as young people) and families which are remotely located and have to spend long travel times to access services. There is a need to understand the best–practices and conduct research on how these services are working and for which groups. As Annette explained, “Telepractice has a place in the continuum of care.” This has to be explored further and practical considerations for delivering the services and supporting them, must be developed.
- Research on digital divide and its impact
To close the gap, there is a need to understand the digital divide. Although the Australian Digital Inclusion Index (2020) has reported a significant increase in digital access, the affordability of these technologies and literacy to use them has not increased at the same rate. Rolling blackouts experienced by remote areas, households with multiple users but limited number of devices, and unaffordability of internet/mobile data plans are building what have become known as the ‘digital divide’. As a result of these challenges, some vulnerable communities are not able to access services and are at further risk of being disadvantaged.
These barriers need to be explored further through culturally sensitive and confidential practice that builds trust and relationships with communities accessing telehealth and remote services. This information can then be used to design innovative solutions for telehealth services and remote service delivery which are needed to assist communities with distinct digital needs.
- Improving digital literacy
Keeping up with the rapid and ongoing transition to digital service delivery has been a challenge. This has been reported by both staff and clients. Low-levels of digital capacity and confidence of staff and clients can negatively affect the intended outcomes of telehealth services. Research hubs like Emerging Minds and the Parenting Research Center offer practical guides and tools for not-for-profits and practitioners. The resources are designed to develop proficiency and confidence when supporting children and families through telehealth services. As remote services continue being included into the architecture of service design, it is vital to continually develop the digital capacity of clients and practitioners for better outcomes.
- Access to internet is a basic right
There is an increased recognition that internet access is a basic public utility. The increased demand for telehealth services and remote delivery of education during COVID-19 has highlighted how internet access is critical to closing the gap for digitally excluded communities. The inequities of the digital divide put vulnerable children and families at risk of being socially, academically and economically excluded or disengaged. Agencies need to play a key facilitative role in digital inclusion by educating policy makers about the impact of the digital divide on their clients and advocating for internet access as a basic human right to achieving health and wellbeing.
- A resource list is available at: https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/webinars/digital-divide-and-remote-service-delivery
- A recorded version of this event will become available on the CFCA Youtube page.
To find out more about the organisations participating in the panel and other work discussed during the event, follow the links below:
Australian Red Cross– As a DSS Communities for Children Facilitating Partner, Red Cross funds CfC activities in the communities of Palmerston, a satellite city of Darwin, and on the Tiwi Islands.
Child Family Community Australia– Provides evidence-based information, resources and interactive support for professionals in the child, family and community welfare sector.
Center for Social Impact (CSI) Swinburne– Through an interdisciplinary approach that draws insights from management, sociology, public policy, anthropology, and information systems, CSI Swinburne integrates high calibre research with learning and active engagement to contribute to positive social change.
The Parenting Research Centre– assists governments and community agencies to implement scientific evidence on parenting by making evidence accessible and useful.
Also check out:
OPEN’s recent Forum on Children’s Rights and Wellbeing in the Digital World, featuring presentations from Prof. Amanda Third (Professorial Research Fellow in Digital Social and Cultural Research in the Institute for Culture and Society and Co-Director of the Young and Resilient Research at Western Sydney University) and Bec Nguyen (Digital Projects Manager at Telethon Institute, Perth WA).